The series hailed from Beau Willimon and starred Sean Penn and Natascha McElhone in Penn’s first regular television role. “The First” was set in the near future and followed the first human mission to Mars. Hulu gave the show a straight-to-series order in May 2017, with the show launching in September 2018. It also starred LisaGay Hamilton, Keiko Agena, Rey Lucas, Hannah Ware, and James Ransone.
Westward Productions, an independent film and television studio founded by Willimon and his producing partner Jordan Tappis, owned and produced “The First.” The series, commissioned by Channel 4 and Hulu, was co-financed by Hulu, Channel 4, IMG and AG Studios. Executive producers were Willimon and Tappis for Westward. The series was commissioned for Channel 4 by Simon Maxwell, head of international drama, and Beth Willis, head of drama. For Hulu the series was commissioned by Craig Erwich, senior vice president of content, and Beatrice Springborn, vice president of content development.
The show received mixed reviews upon its release, holding a 68% approval rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes. In his review for Variety, Daniel D’Addario wrote:
“After the initial statement of purpose, though, the show falls victim to both pacing problems and a certain lopsidedness. A show like this, with title and premise centered around what it would mean to be a pioneer on a new planet, encourages an excited sort of stargazing; that quite so much of it is spent exploring Hagerty’s family crisis saps the energy and spirit from a show that should have both in spades.”